Tackling bullying

Written by Andrew Holt
October 2009

Emma-Jane Cross was the most surprised person in the room at this year's Charity
Times Awards when she picked up the Charity Principal of the Year Award. Chief executive of Beatbullying, she was a popular choice to win, in what was a very strong category. "I was very surprised. I didn't think I had a hope in hell. There were some great people on the shortlist who had done some brilliant work," she confesses.

She threw in a promising academic career to found Beatbullying (BB) in 1999, on the "vaguest of ideas" and see it fully registered in 2002. For the first three years she worked to establish BB as a volunteer and ploughed £150,000 of her own cash into its start up. BB will turn over £2.3m this year.

At the time Cross was working as a lecturer at Surrey University and doing a PHD. As part of her research she worked with families in crisis. "It became obvious to me that after two years of focused field research that many of the youngsters living in families in crisis were either bullies or being bullied.

"I talked to too many of them who chatted through what a hellish time they were having at school. Violence, fear and bullying just enveloped them. I then asked myself which NGO or charity was working in this area, and it was rather ad hoc at the time, with no standalone bullying charity, so I thought I will have a go at that and help these youngsters."

Without completing her PHD she left to set-up BB, which must have been a scary, uncertain time? "No it wasn't," she says, "It was utterly exhilarating and liberating to know I was going to do something I believed in, I felt compelled and driven to do it.
Academia was too Ivory Tower for me. There was too little application in the work I was doing."

The charity empowers young people to lead off and online anti-bullying and anti-violence
campaigns in their schools and local communities. It builds the capacity of local communities to sustain the work. BB has directly and indirectly worked with 800,000 young people since 2002, assisting and supporting young people that are
being bullied, harassed or abused by a peer.

BB sets out to re-educate and change the behaviour of young people that bully, and prevent bullying and child on child violence in schools, on the streets and in communities across the UK. Since 2002 the charity has grown rapidly. In the last year alone, Cross has successfully led BB through an expansion which has seen it nearly treble in size. BB now has 52 employees and 1,000 trained volunteers.

Has this been the toughest year yet? Cross says not, that was 2002. "You try and put a business plan together, you are dependent on that plan and idea. It is also about finding the inspiration, drive and belief that what you are hoping to do is needed."

The structure that emerged focused on putting in place a four strong directorship, covering finance, business development, practice and new media. The four departments were designed to carry one or two managers each and then officers and apprentices working out of series of divisions.

For example, Business Development manages fundraising, events and sales. New Media manages online, technical and design, all critical to BB's flag ships CyberMentors project. Practice manages all practice areas including the recently
launched CyberMentors, Peer Mentoring, BB Sports and Music, with PR, Research &
Operations running out of the CEO's office.

"When we introduced the model we used the levers such as music and sport. What has
happened is that as we have grown, departments have grown with us, because we use different models to work with different youngsters dependent on the risk assessment. Sport for example is about working with some youngsters in no way related to a school environment and taking their love of sport and moulding a behaviour change programme into that level and working with them over months and years."

In her work, has she seen a greater demand on what the charity does with a breakdown in society and the family? "I don't there has been a rise in bullying there has been a rise in reporting of this type of behaviour," she is keen to highlight.

This, Cross, notes is BB's big achievement. "I would like to think Beatbullying has made a contribution, and at times, an important contribution on taking a non-social and educational issue and putting it on the front pages of the media, and in the minds of government and school leadership. Seven years ago, no one was talking about bullying, no one was trying to prevent it, no one was intervening, so in a small way we have made a contribution in putting it into the public consciousness of this country."

Bullying, says Cross, is a perennial problem. "There needs to be an emphasis on youngsters who are struggling through persistent bullying which tips into crime against the person. There is probably 300,000 youngsters being persistently bullied in their schools and broader communities and that is where behaviour intervention needs to be focused on."

That figures is based on surveying tens of thousands of young people. "About one in three are being bullied. That is from low level bullying to serious crimes against the person. Within those statistics, about in one in ten of those in one in three are being persistently bullied, that is day in day out, week in week out, there are
very vulnerable."

Has she noted therefore, the much cited 'Broken Britain' in her work? "I don't think for a
moment that the family in this country has broken down. There are certain youngsters who are in crisis for a variety of reasons. It is those youngsters we need to fix and work with; all have restrictive emotional IQ, so the frustration out of that leads to bullying. They find refuge in bullying, they refuge in violence, wrongly, it gives them a sense of their own power and their own status, it is reversing that, that is good intervention work."

There was a reluctance on part of the Government in the early stages to acknowledge the issue, but that has all changed. "There was resistance, from government in particular
initially, as there always is. But it is the sector's responsibility to lay out an evidence-based argument on any social area, on why it is an issue and why you, as a charity, have a solution."

As Cross indicated, BB has proved a huge success in winning over sceptics, as all three
main political parties now wish to deal with problems of bullying. "All three [main parties]
are putting child on child violence and bullying up the political agenda."

So after achieving so much, what then are the next set of challenges for Cross and BB?
"Very much to embed Cybermentors into our programmes, where we are developing mini-mentors, which is for five to eleven year olds, focused on wellbeing, friendship and
youngsters supporting and mentoring each other.

"We are looking to expand, opening an office in Wales in mid-October, a third due to open in the north west just after Christmas. But with the real success of Cybermentors we have been able to scale up aspects of our provision. There is likely to be an extension of Cybermentors to reach out to many young people in crisis as
possible."

Her day today work continues to be a major source of motivation. "It is always surprising
those who inspire me," she says. "A young woman who I have been mentoring for five years now, has struggled through some of the most unimaginable crises - she walked through the killing fields of Burundi on her own - and she is my inspiration. She is a young woman of passion, commitment, empathy and sympathy, she is doing so well. I am glad to know her."

Giving advice to other charity CEOs she says: "Always think big. You will need to compromise. But believe in it and stay the course if you can. Beatbullying is successful because it is a meritocracy. The best ideas win at Beatbullying."

And with Cross at the helm, it has proved a very succesful structure indeed.



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